Tuesday 30 April 2024

Out and About in the Claise Valley in Early April

My friend Ingrid and I took ourselves on a little nature outing to check on the state of the orchids in the Claise Valley around Chaumussay on 7 April. She wanted to practice with a new macro lens, so she took most of the photos. And we saw a lot of wildlife apart from just orchids. So here is a selection.


A Red-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus lapidarius (Fr. Bourdon des pierres) queen looking for a suitable place to set up her new colony.

Red-tailed Bumble Bee Bombus lapidarius, Indre et loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Lady Orchid Orchis purpurea (Fr. Orchis pourpre) bud.

lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, Indre et loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Male Green Fairy Longhorn moths Adela reaumurella (Fr. Adèle verdoyante) displaying on a Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana (Fr. Viorne lantane), waiting for females to appear.

Green Fairy Longhorn Moths AdeLa reaumureLLa, Indre et Loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Apple Blossom Beetle Tropinota hirta (Fr. Cétoine hérissée) on, you guessed it, apple blossom. The tree is a naturalised domestic apple I assume.

Apple Blossom Beetle Tropinota hirta, Indre et loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Lady Orchid.

lady Orchid Orchis purpurea, Indre et loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

The remarkarble shared tower entries to a sweat bee Lasioglossum marginatum colony. One of the little bees who occupy these tiny tunnels is centre bottom.

LasiogLossum marginatum, Indre et Loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi (Fr. Thècle de la ronce) on apple blossom. This lovely butterfly has a very short flight season, but the numbers appear to be increasing. These days I see it every year, which was not the case in the past.

Green Hairstreak CaLLophrys rubi, Indre et Loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

The rare parasitic fly Gonia vacua. This one is male and covered in pollen.

Gonia vacua, Indre et Loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

The Second World War Demarcation line memorial at Chaumussay, on the D42 between Preuilly sur Claise and le Grand Pressigny. Conveniently, one can park there, and there is a colony of Early Purple Orchids.

Demarcation line memorial, Indre et loire, France.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid de Winter.

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula (Fr. Orchis male) and Blue Sedge Carex flacca (Fr. Laîche glauque).

Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula and Blue Sedge Carex flacca, Indre et loire, France.

Cowslips Primula veris (Fr. Coucou) on the roadside at Humeau.

Cowslip Primula veris, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Monday 29 April 2024

Drinking Chocolate in a French Supermarket

There is a range of drinking chocolate  powders available in my local SuperU supermarket. They do their own brand, and there are the two French classic brands, Poulain and Banania. Plus a few other multinational brands, but no Cadbury's in sight.

The Poulain product is called 'Grand Arome' ('big scent') and is manufactured in the Touraine Loire Valley, where the company began, in the mid-19th century. The standard product is 32% cacao, made with cocoa sourced in Africa, and the rest is sugar from beets grown and processed in Europe. There are a few variations, with less sugar and more cocoa. It costs around €12 a kilo.

Drinking chocolate in a French supermarket. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Chocolat Poulain was created in 1848 by Victor-Auguste Poulain, a confectionary maker from Blois. Since 2017, the company has been owned by Carambar, a French company specialising in confectionary that also owns the brands Terry's, Kréma, pastilles Vichy and Suchard, with five factories in France. The emblem of Poulain is a foal, as the word 'poulain' means 'foal'. The first Poulain boutique was in the former family home in Blois of the magician Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, now open to the public as the Museum of Magic.

Along with Suchard (1826) and Menier (1836), Poulain is amongst the oldest chocolate brands in France and the first to engage in widespread image rich publicity campaigns. They also printed educational images which were offered free with their products, and introduced the idea of random half price vouchers which were distributed amongst their packaging for some lucky consumer to find by chance.

Banania was created in 1914 by journalist Pierre-Francois Lardet after a trip to South America where he encountered indigenous women making a drink from banana flour, cacao, cereal and sugar. It quickly became the market leader, largely thanks to generous donations of the product to the soldiers on the front line, and the use of a Senegalese sharpshooter as the brand emblem. After the Second World War though this overt association with colonialism became controversial and Poulain and Nesquik were the market leaders. Banania has struggled ever since to maintain its market share and in 2019 it closed its last factory in France. The product is now made in Germany.

Saturday 27 April 2024

A Town Called Rubiera

Rubiera is a town in the Province of Reggio Emilia in the Italy, and is about 10 kilometres west of Modena. We stayed there for one night last year on our way down to Florence.

We stayed in a really nice, old fashioned, but very clean and comfortable 3*** hotel that just happens to have a Michelin starred restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn't open on Sunday nights, which is probably the reason we were able to stay in an elegant, old world 3*** hotel with free breakfast for 40€. But more of that another day.

It was stinking hot when we arrived, but we had to have a proper walk around as it's the first time either of us had been in a small Italian regional town. And it properly lived up to all the clichés. There's a much altered early medieval castle in the middle of town, plenty of old buildings with arcaded fronts, and lots of colours.

The Town Hall. Deep arcades, and an Amnesty International banner. Rubiera has had a reputation for being a humanitarian town since before WW2.

Colourful stucco and a blue sky: the streets of Rubiera.

Shade is important on a hot day.

The remnants of the castle, right on the market square in the middle of town.

I knew nothing about Rubiera before we arrived, because I was treating it as just a stop along the way to Florence. Now I look at the photos and wish we'd had more time and a bit more focus.

Maybe next time.

Friday 26 April 2024

Fête St Georges 2024

There was no blog post on Wednesday - an oversight, because I had written one. This one:

Last Saturday was the fete St George. St George is the Patron Saint of Preuilly (and a fair percentage of other places, as well) and there has been a fete to celebrate him for many years. There have been occasions in the past when the fete wasn't held (recently because of the plague) and occasionally in previous centuries the town was chided by the authorities for not holding the fete and its associated cattle market.

These days there is no cattle market, although apparently some older residents of town remember it and rue its passing. All the local associations hold stands for renewing memberships, there are brocante style stalls, and various comestibles are available.

When we first arrived in town there were also rides and a lot of professional stalls, none of which have made it back after the dark years of Covid. This year the fete was a lot busier than the past three years so hopefully it will continue to grow.

Thursday 25 April 2024

ANZAC Biscuits

ANZAC biscuits are so named because of their association with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) from the First World War. They must contain rolled oats, sugar, butter and Golden Syrup. Usually they have dessicated coconut too. It is widely believed that Australian wives, mothers and women's groups sent the biscuits to troops fighting abroad in Europe and the Middle East because they were robust and didn't spoil on the long sea voyage to deliver them.

ANZAC is a protected term and manufacturers wishing to produce and sell these biscuits must apply to the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs. Commercially produced biscuits must adhere to the official recipe too (the only exceptions are substitutions to cater for dietary restrictions). Manufacturers must use the term 'biscuit' and not 'cookies'.

ANZAC biscuits.

Versions of the ANZAC biscuit no doubt existed long before the First World War, but the first recipes using that name started appearing during the War, and in the decade immediately following. The first published recipes for a biscuit that is identical to the ANZAC biscuit we know and love today appeared in the 1920s.

Today they are a popular fundraiser for the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and collectors buy them for the limited edition decorative tins they are packaged in. 

ANZAC biscuits.

1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
125g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and line oven trays with baking paper or a silicone sheet.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, rolled oats and coconut.
  3. Melt butter and golden syrup.
  4. Add bicarb to boiling water and mix into butter mixture.
  5. Stir into the dry ingredients.
  6. Form the dough into large marble sized balls and drop onto trays, allowing generous room for spreading.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes until light golden brown.
  8. Cool on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Makes 25 biscuits. 

ANZAC biscuits, Australia. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

And in case you didn't know, today is ANZAC Day in Australia, a public holiday when Australian veterans are commemorated. Much like France on Armistice Day (11 November) there will be ceremonies at war memorials in towns big and small all over the country.

I baked ANZAC biscuits a couple of months ago for our Ukrainian Christmas event. I was pleased to see that they all went and people were keen to try them. No one had heard of them and I was intrigued that several people referred to them as 'macarons'.

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Normal Service is Resumed

We did our first day of work with Claudette on Sunday. It was cold but clear, and Claudette responded beautifully, even if she never really warmed up. Here are some pics.

Tours at 08:30

Parked at Azay le Rideau


The gardens at Villandry

Merrill and Verena with Claudette at the end of the day

Monday 22 April 2024

Heritage Paint Job

On the old N10 highway south of Ste Maure de Touraine was a service station and restaurant that holds a special place in the hearts of many locals, and a lot of people who travelled to the beaches and islands on the Atlantic coast in the 1970s.

Of late it has looked very sad - the restaurant is now a private club and looks tatty from the outside, and the petrol station has looked derelict, even though it is a regular meeting place for car events. We went to a coffee morning there in 2021, the first car event after lockdown.

On Saturday we drove past and noticed that work on improving the view had commenced. On Sunday the painting was complete, but more has yet to be done. Nevertheless, it's a great improvement and will gladden the hearts of many.

Bravo to the organisation Nostal'10

Saturday 20 April 2024

The Barbegal Mills

The Barbegal aqueduct and mills are situated in Fontvieille, Bouches-du-Rhône, near Arles. Often hailed as "the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world," it has 16 overshot water wheels, where the outflow of one wheel propells the successive wheel, making it the largest ancient mill complex on record.

The mills are at a junction of two aqueducts that were integral to Arles' water supply. The aqueducts merge just north of the mill complex, and were regulated by a sluice controlling the water's flow to the mills.

The aqueducts where they cross the D82.
You can see the modern road.

We were there on a stinking hot day at the end of June last year. We parked in the official car park by the aqueducts that fed the mills, and followed them up quite a steep hill. That in itself was quite a build up, and leads to a channel cut through the top of the hill.

Walking uphill alongside the aqueducts

The channel cut through the hilltop

The mills are arranged in two parallel sets of eight, progressing down the hillside, each with its own waterwheel. You can see remnants of masonry either side of the water channels and massive foundations of the individual mills. It operated from the start of the 2nd century to the close of the 3rd century, and could grind an estimated at 4.5 tons of flour per day.

Looking downhill at the ruins of the mills

Although all is now in ruins it's quite easy to see how it worked, and artists impressions of how the mill looked at it peak abound.

I'm not sure I'd travel all the way to Arles to see it, but it's not that far from the Pont du Gard.

Friday 19 April 2024

Traffic Calming in Etableau

Etableau is a hamlet with a very large ruined chateau, close to le Grand Pressigny. The road from Preuilly to le Grand Pressigny passing through Etableau is narrow, lined with houses on both sides, and always has cars parked on one side.

Not long after we moved to France a 30km/h speed limit was introduced where the road passes the houses, and a year or two later an electronic speed sign was erected. It can feel a bit sketchy driving through the hamlet because people still drive too fast for the view they have of the road ahead.

Yesterday I was driving to le Grand Pressigny and noticed that between Monday afternoon and Thursday morning temporary chicanes have been installed at each end of the hamlet. If these are successful in slowing traffic down no doubt they will be recreated in concrete.

Approaching from le Grand Pressigny 

Departing towards Preuilly-sur-Claise 

Thursday 18 April 2024

Lamb Curry and Weird Rice

That's not it's official title - officially it's gosht anna palak nu shaak. 

It's a recipe I found in The Guardian a couple of years ago but hadn't cooked before now. I followed the recipe faithfully except for a couple of things: I didn't add salt to the curry sauce, I used chard instead of baby spinach (didn't have any) and I used ordinary white rice, not basmati. The lamb was a couple of bags of trimmings that came with the side of lamb we buy every year, and is perfect for this sort of dish.

It's a super easy recipe, even if it reads a bit complicated. The level of spice was spot on, and the rice actually cooked fully and wasn't just hard pellets. I'm not usually a fan of any sort of rice cooked in a frying pan, but this was good.

It even looked ok on a plate - most unusual for me.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Rare Adders Tongue Fern in the Orchard

Adder's Tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum (Fr. Langue de serpent). 

Five years ago I could hardly believe my eyes! A rare and protected fern suddenly appeared in the orchard. I had no idea where it had come from and I'd never seen it before anywhere, despite spending lots of time with botanists and seeing many rare and protected plants here. 

Adders Tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

This year I'm thrilled to see that the Adder's Tongue is everywhere in the orchard, stretching in a broad band from north-east, where the original station is, to south-west, up under the sour cherries. I've never seen so many individual plants of it.

Adders Tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

I'm told that it is a plant whose presence indicates well managed meadow and old meadow. It is widespread but scattered in lowland France, and not common. Here in Centre-Val de Loire it is rare and protected, considered threatened, but it is the sort of plant that is prone to being under-recorded because it is small, has a short season above ground, and not showy. In the Brenne the fern is recorded along roadsides and grasslands on poor soil, often in places that get both very wet and very dry in the course of the year. The species is a ZNIEFF determinant (meaning that its presence indicates a site of interest ecologically). It is at risk when land is drained, when grassland is modified ('improved' or urbanised) or is abandoned and mowing for hay ceases. The population is in strong regression because of all these things.
Adders Tongue Fern Ophioglossum vulgatum, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

My serious botanist friends ask me every year if the Ophioglosse has reappeared. This year I sent them all an email to let them know.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Lichen Outing to the Chateau de Brou

Here are some photos from the Botamyco37 outing to the Chateau de Brou yesterday. We were focusing on lichen, but there were some interesting insects too. As ever, Marie-Claude did a great job of organising and providing expert field teaching.

Nature outing, Indre et loire, France.
Patrick, Marie-Christine and me in action. Photo courtesy of Louisette Chaslon.

Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus (Fr. Meloe violet), mating. Male is below, female above. He is eating a buttercup stem, one of their favourite foods. These beetles are the object of some conservation concern as their numbers are declining.

Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Marie-Claude, left, introducing us to the startling white lichen called Sporodophoron cretaceum, almost entirely restricted to oak trunks, and identifiable because it reacts by turning yellow when potassium is applied.

Sporodophoron cretaceum, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Many lichenologists favourite little lichen, the uncommon Goldeneye Teloschistes chrysophthalmus (Fr. Œil d’or). It is always found on twigs, and likes being in the wind. It is very sensitive to pollution, so has been in decline in Europe for decades.

Goldeneye Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Trox sp, a hide beetle that I was lucky to see. They are uncommon, and live in birds nests, eating dessicated organic matter. I think it is quite rare to see one trundling about in the open, and I had to ask for help in identifying it (many thanks Philippe Zorgati).

Hide beetle Trox sp, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Variospora aurantia a lichen of limestone, which we found on the stones of the chateau itself. It can be distinguished from its lookalike and very common cousin V. flavescens by looking at the lobes of the thallus (ie the wavy outer edge of the lichen). V. aurantia has flattened lobes, a bit like spatulas; V. flavescens has rounded lobes, a bit like fingers.

Variospora flavescens, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Black Shield lichen Tephromela atra var calcarea, something of an old friend for me, as I remember learning this one on a previous outing led by Marie-Claude. This variety is very common on limestone, but there is another variety that grows on flint, and another one that grows on tree bark.

Black Shield lichen Tephromela atra, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

A mating pair of the fever fly Dilophus antipedalis. These are in the family Bibionidae, and typically there is sexual dimorphism like this, with females being larger and having long heads with small eyes. Males have large eyes and are smaller. This pair were just a few millimetres long.

Fever fly Dilophus antipedalis, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Photographing a small fly, France.
Me trying to photograph the flies. Photo courtesy of Louisette Chaslon.

We don't often have somewhere so grand for the outing leader to do their introduction. We are very grateful to the Chateau's owners for allowing us access.

Introduction to lichen, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Dark-edged Bee Fly Bombylius major (Fr. Grand Bombyle), female, which was lurking around a Common Furrow Bee Lasioglossum calceata colony, waiting its chance to lay eggs in the bees' nests.

Dark-edged Bee Fly Bombylius major, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.